#7 Tennessee Football 2016 Preview

Tennessee Volunteers
Overall Rank: #7
#3 SEC
The 2015 edition of the Tennessee Volunteers was a young and talented group that went through some excruciating losses. For example, the Oklahoma game was controlled by Tennessee for the majority of the contest but the inability to deliver the knockout punch against the Sooners cost the Volunteers in a 31-24 overtime loss. Losses to Florida, Alabama and Arkansas by a combined ten points were also great indicators of a team that still needs to learn how to win the tight, big game against a high quality opponent. With the majority of the team back in 2016 expectations and optimism are at a fever pitch in Knoxville.
2015 Record: 9-4, 5-3
2015 Bowl: Outback Bowl vs. Northwestern (W 45-6)
Coach: Butch Jones (21-17 at Tennessee, 71-44 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike DeBord
Defensive Coordinator: Bob Shoop
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Jalen Hurd, RB, 1,288 yards
Passing: Joshua Dobbs, QB, 2,291 yards
Receiving: Josh Malone, WR, 405 yards
Tackles: Jalen Reeves-Maybin, LB, 105
Sacks: Derek Barnett, DE, 10.0
Interceptions: Todd Kelly, S, 3
Other Key Returnees: RB Alvin Kamara, WR Josh Smith, OL Dylan Wiesman, LB Darrin Kirkland, DE Corey Vereen, S Evan Berry
Key Losses: WR Von Pearson, OL Kyler Kerbyson, S Brian Randolph, DT Owen Williams
Joshua Dobbs will lead what should be a balanced offense in 2016 for Tennessee. Dobbs threw for nearly 2,300 yards and has the potential to go for well over 3,000 yards in 2016 if he can improve his overall accuracy throwing the football. A good completion percentage target for Dobbs will be around 63-65 percent as that will keep defense more honest. Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara lead a ground attack that is going to dictate just how successful this offense is in 2016. Hurd ran for 1,288 yards and 12 touchdowns last season and will, without question, be looking to make a strong final impression on NFL scouts. Kamara catches the ball well out of the backfield as he caught 34 passes in 2015 and has a shot to improve upon that number this season. Defensively, end Derek Barnett will be a relentless pass rusher that should thrive under new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. Jalen Reeves-Maybin leads a very strong group of linebackers. Reeves-Maybin had 105 tackles in 2015 to lead a defensive unit that only allowed 20 points per game last season. Evan Berry and Cameron Sutton in the return game have a tremendous ability to tilt field position with their explosiveness on kickoff and punt returns.
Tennessee will need to evolve in the passing game in 2016 if they are going to win the SEC East. Josh Malone had 405 receiving yards last season and, along with Josh Smith and some other young receivers, this group will have to elevate their overall level of play very quickly. The defensive line is a bit light on depth so if that position group gets beset with a bunch of injuries to key players like a Barnett then things could get a bit dicey as the season goes along. Safety also needs to be addressed. Todd Kelly Jr. is the only known commodity at that spot and the competition for playing time should be fierce.
The Bottom Line:
Appalachian State visits Knoxville on September 1st in a dangerous opener for the Volunteers. The following week has the Battle at Bristol when Tennessee will take on Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway. After battling the Hokies things will definitely heat up as Florida comes to Knoxville. The Gators have owned the Volunteers in recent years and quite frankly the direction of the season as a whole will be determined a lot by this game. This game is a must-win for head coach Butch Jones and his program if they really truly are back amongst the elite of college football. The three game stretch after the battle with Florida is also going to be crucial as Tennessee will go to Georgia and Texas A&M before playing Alabama in Knoxville on October 15th. When all is said and done, look for the Volunteers to win ten regular season games and get a couple signature wins along the way which should set them up for a New Year’s Six Bowl berth.
Projected Bowl: Cotton Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 223.7 (20th in nation, 2nd in conference)
Passing Offense: 198.6 (92, 9)
Total Offense: 422.3 (52, 7)
Scoring Offense: 35.2 (29, 3)
Rushing Defense: 151.6 (45, 9)
Pass Defense: 210.4 (47, 8)
Total Defense: 362.0 (36, 7)
Scoring Defense: 20.0 (16, 5)
Turnover Margin: 0.54 (28, 4)
Sacks: 2.31 (45, 6)
Sacks Allowed: 1.77 (52, 7)
Madness 2017 NFL Draft Rankings:
#6 Derek Barnett
#30 Cameron Sutton
#36 Jalen Reeves-Maybin
Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#63 Jarrett Guarantano
#69 Nigel Warrior
#71 Tyler Byrd
#92 Marquill Osborne
#145 Marquez Callaway
#221 Carlin Fils-Aime